Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback and an evangelical Christian, has been the focus of massive press lately. Multiple fourth quarter comebacks have put him in the spotlight, but the intensity of press has been due to controversy over his “mixing of sports and religion”. One key driver of the criticism is that he often starts post-game interviews with the statement, “First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. Just Google Tebow’s name for a sampling of the hatred directed toward him over this.
Here’s a question to ponder: Would these Tebow-hating sports fans be so intense in their anger if he simply mentioned in interviews that he is a Christian, rather than made a direct statement of thanks to God? Think about it for a second.
Most people are talking about this as an issue of mixing sports and religion. But, whether they realize it or not, the intensity of anger is more likely driven by the specific words “I want to thank…” People are assuming that Tebow is thanking God for the victory. That may or may not be the case. But atheists and even many Christians recoil at that assumption because it implies God cares about a trivial sport and directed one team to win and the other to lose. That’s a concept that just doesn’t feel right to many.
The question I would pose to Atheists is this: How can you recoil at a notion about a God you believe does not exist? If the notion didn’t bother you, you would wave off Tebow’s statements as meaningless. But anger implies a fundamental disagreement with the premise that the Christian God would possibly work in this way. Who are you to say how God works when you don’t believe in the Bible as a source of knowledge about Him? If a powerful God created the entire universe, don’t you think he could work in any way He wanted, outside of how you think he would work?
The question I would pose to fellow Christians is this: If we feel uncomfortable with the notion that Tebow should thank God after a football game, what SHOULD he – and all of us – thank God for? The discomfort implies an underlying feeling that we should limit our thanksgiving to the things we think are directly attributable to God’s involvement.
Let’s see what the Bible tells us about what to thank God for.
There are three examples of Jesus thanking God. He thanked God for meals (Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:27), for God’s overall will and method of revelation (Luke 10:21) and for answering his prayer to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41).
Paul regularly thanked God in his letters for the members of the churches to which he wrote (1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Romans 1:8; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; Philemon 1:4). He also regularly gave thanks for his salvation and God’s grace (Romans 7:25; 1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 6:17; 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Timothy 1:12).
Beyond these specific examples of prayers of Thanksgiving, all other verses on giving thanks tell us to give thanks for everything…there is absolutely no qualification placed on that. It doesn’t say “give thanks for only the things you know God was directly involved in.” It doesn’t say “give thanks for only the things you think God cares about.” There is no Biblical support whatsoever that God wants us to guess what he’s involved in and what he isn’t and then offer thanks accordingly. The Bible simply says give thanks for everything (Philippians 4:6, Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20).
So what SHOULD Tim Tebow thank God for? We can’t delineate between a football victory, his God-given talents, his health, or the opportunity to bring glory to God…we only know we are called to be thankful for everything at all times. Atheists may be angry about that, but they have no basis to disagree with Christians on when to thank a God they don’t believe in.
Do you ever “censor” what you give thanks for, based on what you feel is directly attributable to God?
Kids learn a tremendous amount about prayer based on what they hear from us. If we are subconsciously “censoring” our prayers to reflect our own understanding of what God should be thanked for, this will impact their prayer life as well. Next time you pray with your kids, make it a prayer focused on thanksgiving, and encourage them to thank God for everything!